The City’s Underbelly at Work for You! And Just in Time for Christmas!
Denver’s Mayor, Michael Hancock, not unlike most of Denver’s progressive mayors, values the worth of uplifting the downtrodden, occasionally giving credence to even the mostly egregiously harebrained of bright ideas to achieve that goal with the kind of effusive magnanimity that damns the better angels of logic for the embracement of good intentions seen through rose-colored glasses that don’t correct for myopia.
This building at 1330 Fox Street is where Hizzoner and Rose A. Andom–identified as a Denver entrepreneur and McDonald’s franchise owner (who provided $1 Million to the effort)–want to serve victims of domestic violence with a “wraparound” philosophy, offering a number of important triage services to those folks at one place, 1330 Fox, with the intent of rebuilding their lives to happily ever afters. Good stuff, this. A valuable service.
Only problem is, though, that Mister Hancock wants to trade nine acres of the Hentzell Park Natural Area in southeast Denver for the 1330 Fox building. The Denver Public School System owns the structure, while the People of Denver own the Natural Area. So, if a trade of real estate were to occur, the Mayor and Ms. Andom would get the building, DPS would get the Natural Area where they would build a new school, and the people of Denver would get zilch. Nada. Well, that’s not completely true. The neighbors bordering the Natural Area who purchased their homes comforted by the fact that the Natural Area would buffer them somewhat from the dreariness of everyday suburban life, will get a school within shouting distance, parking lots, lots of traffic, lots of kids, school buses, and everything attendant to a public school. Such a deal, huh? Well, not really.
If the above scenario is not played out–and I hope it isn’t–please don’t conclude that the domestically battered will be left in the cold. Please grant me that if Hizzoner is serious, and I do believe he is, about what will become a legacy project for him, the domestic violence center, then a reasonable means to that end will be found, i.e. the city should just buy the building. (If the city does not have the cash in hand, they’ve never thought twice about using the convenience of a lease/purchase vehicle to get the job done: witness the Wellington E. Webb Office Building.) What is currently proposed, however, is not reasonable. In fact, it’s ludicrous and, for me at least, exposes the underbelly of city government where slick, quick deals sans the odoriferous output of cigars are still made with the premise that what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt them.
Now, here’s a picture of 21st and Delgany/Wewatta in Lodo. Notice the upscale properties on our left, Coors Field to our right across Wewatta. Amtrak is just behind us. Prime real estate, huh? We’ll come back to this image and the accompanying story later.
It’s important to know a portion of Hentzell Park in southeast Denver was formally designated a Natural Area in 2007 by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) and affirmed by the Manager of Parks and Recreation at the time. This designation was followed by a very extensive management plan for the Natural Area that noted, in part:
The Park’s rural setting can provide the quiet fascination that characterizes restorative places essential to people’s everyday lives. People living in an urban environment have been trying to achieve peace of mind by seeking refuge within a park since the 1800’s. Frederick Law Olmsted struggled with creating a park that accommodated a diversity of users, those seeking a pastoral setting and ones seeking a more active setting. Today, a struggle still exists, because the pastoral setting is becoming harder to come by. Many of the parks in Denver offer areas for recreation, yet very few provide a place for a person to go and lose themselves amongst the plants and the wildlife. People exposed to natural settings on a regular basis seem to have better concentration abilities and are better able to tackle attention -demanding tasks. (Kaplan 1996) The Natural Areas program is giving people and animals a place to go to co-exist with one another in a neutral and restorative setting.
A “…restorative setting.” Dare I suggest there is an essential lesson in this conclusion? If I were King of the World, I do believe I would place those human beings who have been battered and bruised–physically, mentally, emotionally–by the hard knocks of an unkind world into an environment that does not value steel and stone edifices, where running water is brook fed, where the sky is the only ceiling, where walls are trees, bushes or sloped hills, where benign critters abound. In time, I do believe the effects of those human-imposed hard knocks will find no quarter in such an environment, for such things are not natural, are not compatible with God’s good intent. A “…restorative setting…” indeed.
Of course, I am not King of the World and those who believe such a “solution” to treat those suffering from domestic abuse is quite simplistic and unworkable, are the same well-intentioned albeit blindly parochial folks who devalue the restorative power of natural settings to a less sophisticated time–ala Native Americans of yore, perhaps–when the ology arts and sciences–soci, psyc–were yet to be idolized as cure-alls for what ails the human spirit. I do go on, huh?
Point is, the above conclusion of the Hentzell Natural Area master plan has today been relegated to an inconvenient, uncomfortable blip in the history of this unfortunate saga to the point that the key to achieving Hizzoner’s grand scheme is for the Manager of Parks and Recreation, Lauri Dannemiller, to de-designate the Natural Area status for these nine acres so that, yes, steel and stone, brick and mortar, can destroy this priceless natural resource.
Consider this: The lot size for the building at 1330 Fox is 28,100 sq. ft. The current actual value for that lot is $1,545,500, or $55.00 per sq. ft. At only $5 per sq. ft, the value of those nine acres of the Hentzell Park Natural Area is $1,960,200.00. But, if we look a bit at actual lot values in the developed residential land near the Natural Area we see that, on average, those land values are about $12.00 per sq. ft. So too, should we consider that the Natural Area is in a pretty primo location, abutting Kennedy Golf Course and the Cherry Creek Dam? No, let’s discount those value-upping features and just split the $12.00 difference and say a good market estimate for the land value of the Natural Area is $6.00 a sq. ft. What is the Natural Area then worth? Looks like $2,352,240.00. (My figures are suspect only to the extent that the City and County of Denver Assessors Office figures are suspect. Then again, I wasn’t a math major.) However, if we do consider the primo location and plug-in that $12 land value, our Natural Area is now worth $4,704,480.00
You’re thinking all this begs the question why I even bother with the estimated dollar value of this land when I’ve already concluded the Natural Area is priceless. I can only answer with another question: If you didn’t buy the “…restorative setting…” argument, then can you wrap your brain around the dollars and cents argument?
Okay. Let’s address the seeming incongruous image of 21st and Delgany/Wewatta, above. Here’s another image that provides detail:
The City owns the property inside the squiggly lines. The other property, outlined in red, is privately owned. Wewatta is to your right, Delgany is to your left, 21st is below.
On November 26, 2012, a functionary within the City’s Division of Real Estate, notified the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC), that the city would be selling approximately 12,608 square feet of property (shown within the squiggly lines) to a private entity who owns the adjacent property. The selling price, according to the functionary, was to be $8,300.00, or $.66 per square foot. That’s sixty-six cents per square foot. I do not kid. A member of the INC inquired of the functionary–not his words, but mine–”What the fuck! Sixty-six cents! You’ve got to be kidding.” Apparently there was a response to the effect that the land is worth only $.66 a sq. ft., and once it’s sold and developed the resulting tax base will increase dramatically and, as a consequence, all will be right with the world, and God will remain in His heaven. (I’m not putting words in the functionary’s mouth. I don’t know exactly what he said. But, I am a writer, so I must embellish.) I am told that a later check with the functionary revealed that, since the original inquiry, the price had gone up to $1.00 a square foot, or $12,608.00. An even later inquiry of the functionary from a different party, confirmed some inclination on the city’s part that possibly a public auction would be held in lieu of the original slam-bam-thank you-ma’am decision to just hand over the parcel to the owner of the adjacent property for firstly $.66 cents per sq. ft., and the adjusted later figure of $1.00 per sq. ft.
From what I can tell from the Assessor’s files, the land within the squiggly lines was purchased by the city in 1993 from the Burlington Norther Railroad. It was included in a larger parcel of about 47,641 sq. ft. and sold at that time for $197,531, or $4.14 per sq. ft. which, if adjusted for inflation, would be $6.58 per sq. ft. today. Whether that sale was part of an urban renewal effort, or pursuant to an eminent domain acquisition is unsure. What is sure is that one need not be licensed in real estate to ask the obvious question, yes, once again, “What the fuck!”
Consider this: If you look back at the squiggly lines in the image above, you will see two squares of property adjacent to it that are privately owned. The owner or the agent of the owner is the party in contact with the functionary in the city’s Real Estate Division who wants to buy the property within the squiggly lines. (One cannot help but wonder if the potential buyer of the squiggly-lined property responded, “Oh, yeah, sure, I can handle sixty-six cents a sq. ft. just fine,” he said, a very large grin on his face, a gleeful tone to his voice.) And, boy-howdy, such a deal it would be considering what those two adjacent properties sold for. Both properties were sold to the current owner in 2000. The combined square footage of those two squares is 49,966 sq. ft, which sold for $1,416,968, or $28.35 per sq. ft., or in 2012 dollars, $38.00 per sq. ft.
If I were cynical, and I probably am at times, I might suggest this deal is as odoriferous as that earlier noted proverbial smoke filled room. I mean, lordy, sixty-six cents. But hey, what the hell, what the people (citizens) don’t know won’t hurt them. Huh?
My background is in governmental purchasing. I retired from the City and County of Denver as the Director of Purchasing, a position wherein I and my crew of twenty were responsible for the purchase of about $150 million of goods and services annually. Additionally, the Purchasing Division was, by Charter, responsible for the storage, and eventual disposal through sale or destruction of the city’s surplus personal property, including abandoned and confiscated vehicles, police lost and found property, bicycles, helicopters, office equipment, etc. The method of disposing of the city’s surplus personal property mirrored that of the purchase of new items, i.e. through open auction or sealed bid; a completely transparent system that depended upon the public market to set the selling price. One of the options we had, however, was the opportunity to place a “minimum” on any property we felt required it, and a “no sale” would occur if that minimum was not met. Suffice it to say, in everything that we did–buying or selling–the first principle, the guiding principle that stood as an incontrovertible mandate, was that our efforts must always be conducted in the best interests of the city. It’s important to repeat that: The best interests of the city.
Just asking here, but wouldn’t the best interests of the city be adequately served here by firstly knowing the history of this property, including what the city originally paid for it, and also taking into consideration what the adjacent properties were purchased for, not to mention the primo location of this land right there with future second story views of Coors Field? But, who am I? I don’t even work the real estate desk at the city, and can’t possibly know the logic behind this deal. But, then, as I noted at the outset, the better angels of logic are often neglected strangers within the underbelly of the machinations of the City and County of Denver.
Two real estate deals, taking on the oily countenance of the most egregious wheeling and dealing extant–really nothing new here–behind the closed doors of city functionaries, including Hizzoner, Michael Hancock. Oh, since we’re talking about “closed doors,” with respect to the Hentzell Natural Area a very clear effort was made to keep that transaction close to the city’s vest. Joseph W. Halpern, in a editorial for the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle notes: “…it is no wonder that DPR is attempting to rush through the de-designation as quickly and quietly as possible. Despite the citywide implications of parkland divestiture, DPR chose to provide email notice only to “Hentzell Park Neighbors” and posted a signboard in the Natural Area. No notice was sent to Denver ’s more than 200 Registered Neighborhood Organizations or even to persons like me who have made a standing request to receive emails regarding DPR public meetings and hearings.”
From an interview with Bill Moyers, the naturalist (actually he’s the epitome of the Renaissance Man) Barry Lopez noted:
“… we have created a world in which we marginalize that which we don’t think serves us as well as it could. We’ve turned nature into a thing.
“And we’ve created something in which we have excluded from our moral universe everything but us. And in fact, a lot of people have been excluded from this central White Western European dominant culture.
“And what I would like to I guess encourage people to understand is that for the sake of our own convenience, we created an “other,” and that other was nature. And we said, if it doesn’t serve us, kill it, move it, destroy it, crush it. Make it serve us. And if it doesn’t, it’s no good.
“Nature is the full expression of life.
“I know in my tissues that I have had other teachers- one of them is the living earth itself.”
“Nature is the full expression of life.” And, to add my own conclusion, to destroy a rare, precious slip of nature within an urban setting where, yes, some of the last vestiges of “…the living earth itself…” exist as quiet witness that life does not have to be hard knocks and melancholy, that life can teach the simple, soothing truths of the wind, the sky, the earth, the critters, all of which fulfill as triage to the sick, the suffering; yes, to destroy such a thing is to destroy life itself.
But then would Hizzoner even consider such a thing–life as I’ve described it–if one of his legacy projects is at stake? Who knows? Who knows?